[MUSIC REVIEW] The Badlees & Canadian Brass

Greg Yost - Browsing the Bins


The Badlees - See Me As A Picture (Cover)-2

The Badlees – See Me As A Picture: The Best, So Far 1990-2012 (S.A.M. Records)

Unless you’re from Central Pennsylvania or spent time in or around that region sometime over the past 20+ years, you may not know of the hidden gem that is The Badlees.  Purveyors of a smart and poppy blend of working man’s roots rock, this band has enough talent and charisma to appeal equally to rock bar audiences, record label execs and regular music fans alike.

A recently released retrospective called See Me As A Picture: The Best, So Far 1990-2012 offers a great introduction to this band that should’ve been bigger.  The 18 songs on this set represent some of the best moments from the seven studio albums and two EPs released during the band’s first 22 years.

Of particular note are two tracks from 1995’s River Songs, the band’s major label debut for Polydor/Atlas.  Both “Fear Of Falling” and “Angeline Is Coming Home” did well on the U.S. Mainstream Rock charts with the latter peaking at #67 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart.  These two songs, with their Americana-influenced arrangements and their ultra-catchy hooks, encapsulate what makes The Badlees a band worth having in your collection.

Although the two featured songs represent the band’s high-water mark in terms of mainstream popularity and visibility, they don’t necessarily standout from the rest of the songs on this collection – testament to the overall quality of The Badlees catalog.  Tracks like the harmony-rich ballad “Thinking In Ways,” the mandolin-driven “Poison Ivy,” the polished rocker “Laugh To Keep From Crying,” the big and building anthem “Don’t Let Me Hide” and the band’s earliest hit “Like A Rembrandt,” a piece of jangly pop that brings to mind early R.E.M., all could have easily made the charts given the right circumstances.

In addition to revisiting the past, the members of The Badlees are also focused on the future.  Pete Palladino, Bret Alexander, Ron Simasek and Paul Smith, four of the five original members, recently collaborated on Epiphones And Empty Rooms, the band’s eighth studio album.  The 21-track/2-CD set was released in October and it has been praised by critics.  If you are looking for a musical discovery and you enjoy Americana and roots rock, you should give The Badlees a shot.

Canadian Brass - Carnaval (cover)-2

Canadian Brass – Carnaval (Opening Day Entertainment Group)

Since 1970, Canadian Brass has been the biggest name in brass music.  For more than 40 years, the group has been constantly interpreting/arranging classics and composing original material – basically keeping brass music alive and thriving in popular culture internationally.

Carnaval, the quintet’s latest release for its own Opening Day Entertainment Group label, finds the group conquering a tough challenge by arranging two solo piano pieces from German composer Robert Schumann (1810-1856).  Both “Carnaval, Opus 9” and “Kinderszenen, Opus 15” have been completely re-worked for a brass quintet and the results are stunning.

Thanks to outstanding arrangements by members Chris Coletti and Brandon Ridenour, Canadian Brass struck the right balance between maintaining the spirit and technical expertise of the original piano works while also taking full advantage of the power and muscularity of the brass quintet sound.  The inherent power of brass instruments is especially prominent on selections from “Carnaval, Opus 9” including, “Chiarina,” “Sphinxes,” “Estrella” and “Préambule.”

Although the powerful moments of note are memorable, the overall tone is playful.  Schumann’s original composition uses short pieces to tell an overarching tale of partygoers partaking in the annual Carnaval celebration and listeners can really experience the few lows and many highs of the event as they progress through the piece.  Given the subject matter, it is no wonder that a brass arrangement succeeds as well as it does.  The natural tones of the brass instruments easily convey the intended atmosphere and mood.

“Kinderszenen, Opus 15” occupies the second half of the disc and the music from that composition is both reflective and wistful, which makes total sense given that the original piece invokes an adult looking back on childhood.

One track that really benefits from the brass quintet treatment is “Träumerei,” which translated from German means dreaming or daydreaming.  Already one of Schumann’s most popular and enduring pieces, this pretty and quiet composition absolutely soars on its new brass wings – so much so that it is actually hard to imagine childhood dreaming sounding more elegant and beautiful.

Schumann’s solo piano work had a reputation for being too difficult for public consumption, which only makes the job Coletti and Ridenour did all the more impressive.  Carnaval is a challenging, but ultimately rewarding listen and Canadian Brass continues to impress.

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